USOF, Prasar Bharati, ONDC: MoU for Rural Digital Services

In a landmark initiative aimed at accelerating rural digital transformation, three key Indian government agencies – the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), Prasar Bharati, and the Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) – signed a tripartite Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on March 12, 2024. This collaboration signifies a significant commitment, with a combined investment of $2 billion earmarked for the project.

Leveraging Existing Infrastructure and Expanding Reach

The MoU leverages the existing BharatNet infrastructure established by USOF, which currently connects over 1.5 lakh Gram Panchayats (village councils) in India. The $2 billion investment will propel further expansion plans to bridge the gap and reach all remaining Gram Panchayats by 2027. This enhanced network aims to deliver high-speed broadband services (with a minimum target of 10 Mbps) to rural areas, fostering greater internet penetration.

Localized Content Strategy by Prasar Bharati

Prasar Bharati, India’s public broadcaster, will contribute its vast content library and brand recognition by offering a bundled OTT service featuring linear channels, live TV, and on-demand content. Notably, Prasar Bharati has committed to creating and curating 1 million hours of localized content specifically designed to cater to the interests and needs of rural audiences. This strategic approach addresses the existing gap in culturally relevant entertainment and educational resources available in rural areas.

ONDC to Empower Rural Businesses

ONDC, a revolutionary initiative promoting open and neutral e-commerce networks, will play a crucial role by providing the technical expertise and framework for establishing digital commerce platforms. This will extend beyond just retail products to encompass crucial sectors like education, healthcare (including telemedicine), training, credit, insurance, and agriculture. Experts estimate this initiative has the potential to empower over 50 million rural businesses by bringing them online and connecting them with a national customer base.

Alignment with Government Vision and Expected Impact

This MoU aligns perfectly with the Indian government’s vision of leveraging digital innovation for inclusive growth and rural development. By combining efficient broadband connectivity with informative and entertaining localized content alongside access to essential e-commerce services, this collaboration strives to bridge the digital divide and empower rural communities. Industry experts anticipate this initiative to significantly improve digital literacy and adoption of e-commerce services in rural India. The success hinges on ensuring affordability, creating user-friendly interfaces for audiences with limited digital literacy, and promoting digital literacy programs to bridge the knowledge gap.

Expected Outcomes

  • By 2027, all Gram Panchayats to have access to high-speed broadband connectivity.
  • Over 50 million rural businesses to be brought online through the ONDC platform.
  • 1 million hours of localized content to be created by Prasar Bharati for the rural audience.
  • Increased digital literacy and adoption of e-commerce services in rural India.

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